Jeremy Corbyn has ordered a fresh investigation into Ken Livingstone’s “grossly insensitive” remarks about Jews and Hitler.
Labour’s senior disciplinary panel sparked a backlash on Tuesday when it decided to suspend rather than expel the former Mayor of London over his comments about anti-Semitism.
But amid a clamour from Jewish groups and MPs and Shadow Cabinet ministers for a re-think, Corbyn on Wednesday decided to allow the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) to look again at his conduct.
In a statement, the Labour leader said: “Ken Livingstone’s comments have been grossly insensitive, and he has caused deep offence and hurt to the Jewish community.”
Corbyn pointed out that the party’s independently elected National Constitutional Committee (NCC) had found Livingstone guilty of bringing the party into disrepute and suspended him for two years.
But he rounded on his former ally’s response to the verdict, in which he made clear he would not back down.
Livingstone had sparked yet more outrage when he greeted the ruling by refusing to apologise and by repeating his claims that Hitler had supported a Jewish homeland.
Claiming that the three-day hearing into his case “was like sitting through a court in North Korea”, the former Mayor said: “I apologise for the offence caused by those Labour MPs who lied and said I called Hitler a Zionist.”
He continued: “I did a Vanessa Feltz interview [a Jewish broadcaster] and I guess that is a crime against humanity.”
In his statement, Corbyn said:
“It is deeply disappointing that, despite his long record of standing up to racism, Ken has failed to acknowledge or apologise for the hurt he has caused.
“Many people are understandably upset that he has continued to make offensive remarks which could open him to further disciplinary action.
“Since initiating the disciplinary process, I have not interfered with it and respect the independence of the party’s disciplinary bodies.
“But Ken’s subsequent comments and actions will now be considered by the National Executive Committee after representations from party members.”
The failure to expel Livingstone has been widely condemned within the party, with deputy leader Tom Watson and a string of Shadow Cabinet ministers saying they felt “ashamed” Labour had not taken tougher action.
The three-strong NCC panel surprised many when it decided only to extend the ex-Mayor’s suspension for another year - despite finding him guilty on three charges of breaking party rules.
In an interview with regional political reporters, Corbyn added that Livingstone should realise his comments had “caused enormous hurt” and he would best contribute to Labour’s local election campaign by shutting up.
Livingstone should “stop making comments on this whole issue”. “It is best he keeps quiet for a while,” the Labour leader said.
He revealed that the key focus of the new probe would be remarks made by the former GLC leader made “since the investigation was started”. Livingstone said last week that there had been “real collaboration” between Zionists and the Hitler regime until the start of the Second World War.
But he said he had to respect Labour’s decision-making structures: “We are long past the days when the leader could say this, this, this must happen. It’s democracy. It doesn’t make leadership easy.”
Before Corbyn’s dramatic intervention, several MPs were set to write a joint letter demanding the case be re-opened.
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq had already written to Corbyn with a view to him “asking the NEC to convene an emergency session to review the decision”.
In a blog for HuffPost UK, Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said: “Ken Livingstone’s case needs to go the NCC again - urgently.
“They agreed that Ken Livingstone broke the rules - something he refused to accept again in interviews last night. He is continuing to bring the party into disrepute on something which is as central to our values as fighting antisemitism.”
Labour Friends of Israel also published a letter - signed by eight MPs and a peer - had urged Corbyn to “review this decision immediately”.
Shadow Attorney General Baroness Chakrabarti, had said on Tuesday that the disciplinary process had shown Labour was prepared to “look at itself fairly and carefully in the mirror in more difficult times, however painful”.
But she changed her stance on Wednesday, declaring that Livingstone’s remarks since the suspension verdict had “overtaken” the arguments about the correct form of sanction.
“I am horrified by Ken Livingstone’s lack of contrition and repeated offence which could be grounds for further investigation by the party.
“In the meantime I can only implore Mr Livingstone to maintain a silence and please stop further damaging community relations.”
Former senior Labour official Mike Creighton - who was until last month in charge of legal and disciplinary issues - had said that the incident showed why Corbyn himself should now quit.